The Surprisingly Rapid Destruction of the Professions

It’s hard not to see a common thread in these reports I’ve encountered in recent weeks:

A third of GPs in the UK plan to retire in the next five years because of high stress levels, unmanageable workloads and too little time with patients, in a move that would exacerbate the existing difficulty of getting an appointment.

A poll of 15,560 GPs by the British Medical Association (BMA) has found that 34% intend to stop working by 2020, with many others going part-time, moving abroad or even abandoning medicine altogether.

The findings thrust the issue of GP numbers into the election spotlight as the BMA accused the political parties of making “absurd” promises to tackle what it called a “crisis” and of ignoring the reasons why NHS general practice is facing a worsening shortage of medics.

The BBC has also seen a survey of 3,500 members of the Nasuwt teaching union which shows more than two-thirds of respondents considered quitting the profession in the past year.

Workload was the top concern, with 89% citing this as a problem, followed by pay (45%), inspection (44%), curriculum reform (42%) and pupil behaviour (40%). In addition:

  • 83% had reported workplace stress
  • 67% said their job has adversely impacted their mental or physical health
  • Almost half of the three thousand respondents reported they had seen a doctor because of work-related mental or physical health problems
  • 5% had been hospitalised, and
  • 2% said they had self-harmed.

Academics are suffering from growing stress levels as a result of heavy workloads, management issues and a long-hours culture, a survey has found.

Unachievable deadlines, acute time pressures and the need to work quickly were also common complaints identified by an occupational stress survey completed by more than 14,000 university employees.

Staff were asked by the University and College Union about areas that could potentially cause them stress, such as conflicting management demands, workloads and pressures on their time.

Academics experience far higher levels of stress in these areas than employees in other professions, the survey found.

On a scale of one to five, the stress level of university staff is 2.51 (when well-being is assessed on a scale of one to five, with one being the highest stress level).

The description Will Davies offers of “heating up the floor to see who can keep hopping the longest” has been stuck in my head for well over a month now. My interest in ‘cognitive triage’ began as a rather abstract question about how reflexivity is conceptualised within realist social theory but I’m increasingly convinced this is a serious political issue: how the ratcheting up of situational demands has made life unbearable for many due to the toll that perpetual triaging takes and their diminished capacity to enjoy the rest of their life as a result. That many leave reflects the relative privilege of those in question: as does the fact that the stress level in the UCU report is still substantially lower than that found in a comparable study of the wider economy.

Nonetheless I think something significant is happening here. I’m aware the topic is a vast one and there’s a seemingly endless literature on the sociology of the professions that I’ve thus far only glanced at. I’d be very enthusiastic about exploring this issue in greater depth if anyone more familiar with this area than I am is reading this and wants to talk. I think the concept of ‘triaging’ that I’m developing is potentially very useful in linking up institutional analysis of the transformation of the professions with psychosocial analysis of the toll this takes on professionals (as well as how their responses contribute to the intensification of these changes). Filip Vostal and I have almost finished our first accelerated academy paper (effectively an analysis of ‘heating up the floor’ in one particular context) and I’m increasingly confident that this approach can link up aspects of a process that might otherwise remain analytically disconnected.

2 thoughts on “The Surprisingly Rapid Destruction of the Professions

  1. thanks Nick, I hadn’t but that’s very interesting. it hadn’t occurred to me previously but I think the broader project Filip and I are trying to develop could be seen as a sociological theory of why ‘busy is a sickness’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.